October 19, 2010
It has been over three years since I wrote anything for this site! Due to changing priorities in life, I had backed away from Magic for a couple years, and have just recently returned to the game. It's pretty overwhelming to come back and see all the new cards, mechanics, and strategies that have crept up, so it may be a while before I feel ready to offer any advice on specific decks to build.
That said, there is one area in which I feel I am still qualified to help: drafting. Since returning to the game a couple months ago, I have done five M11 drafts. After my poor performance in the first one (I hadn't played the game in two years and had no idea what cards were in the set), I went undefeated in two drafts, and lost only once in the others. I don't say that to brag, but to give strength to my suggestions about drafting.
If you're a draft veteran, you can go ahead and skip over this article. I have no amazing revelations - just a desire to help those who are new or struggling to compete. I've seen people come to the drafts I've been a part of and it's almost painful to watch them struggle and put together decks that just have no chance of winning.
First off, for those who may not be familiar with a draft, here are the basics. You sit around a table with several people (ideally around eight) and each of you has three booster packs. Each of you open one pack, select one card, and pass the rest to your left. So now, you have a different pack that someone just passed you. Make a selection from that pack, and pass it on. Keep picking and passing until all the cards have been selected. You do the same for packs two and three. Once you have done this, you'll have 42 cards. Using these cards and however much basic land you need, you build a minimum 40 card deck with which you will afterwards play a tournament.
With that lengthy introduction, here are some tips to consider when drafting:
1) The rarity of the card has no impact on how good the card is.
It's easy to look down and see that gold (or red) rarity symbol on the card and assume it's the best card in the pack. That is often not the case. Over half of the time, my first pick is something other than the rare. If you're in the tournament to collect rares, that's fine, but your chances of winning go way down. If you're in the tournament to win, learn to ignore that rarity symbol when drafting.
2) A card that's good in your constructed deck is not always good in draft.
Your Captivating Vampire is a beast in your Vampire deck, but his value goes way down in a draft deck. Why? To make Captivating Vampire useful, you need to build your deck around him and have a bunch of vampires. Your chance of drafting a deck full of vampires is extremely low. Since you have limited control over what cards you get, cards that are versatile and good on their own are the best picks.
3) He who has the most creatures usually wins.
This is oversimplifying things a bit, but the principle is good. To use an extreme example, one of my undefeated draft decks was green and black and consisted of nothing but efficient green creatures, a couple of black fliers, and some black creature kill cards. In other words, every turn I was either putting out another creature or killing a creature my opponent had. This added up to me having more creatures than my opponent every game. Creatures with trample or evasion (flying, fear, landwalk, etc.) are money. Winning doesn't always have to be fancy, and in draft, it often isn't.
4) Too many expensive cards will be your demise.
What good is a Platinum Angel if you're stuck on 3 mana? Duskdale Wurm can't trample over your opponent's 2/2's if he's stuck in your hand. One or two big expensive creatures are good to help add some punch to your deck, but any more than that and your deck is going to be too slow. The bulk of your deck should be cards with 2, 3, or 4 casting costs. Make sure you draft a deck that won't take 6 turns to get started.
5) Let the packs determine your colors.
Don't force yourself into a color. If you see a lot of good black coming around, play black. If you're not seeing any red burn spells, don't try to play red. One good card doesn't neccesarily mean you have to play that color - a bunch of decent cards in blue is better than a Sun Titan and a bunch of junk in white. Try to keep yourself to two colors. I know it's tempting to add white as a third color when you see that Angelic Arbiter come by, but he's most likely going to sit in your hand and do nothing.
6) Run a 40 card deck with 16-17 land.
That sounds terribly strict, but it's a fairly well tested technique. More than 40 cards reduces your odds of getting your best cards, and less than 16 lands makes it more likely that you're going to get stuck with cards in hand without enough mana to play them. I don't think I've ever seen a successful draft deck that had much more than 40 cards or less than 16 (maybe 15 with a very cheap deck) lands.
There's much more to building a good draft deck, and I could go on and on, but I fear I've rambled too much already. Draft is a very fun way to play Magic, but it's a difficult one to master. I hope these ideas will help you be more competitive in your next draft!
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